The Salon Report on Kenneth
Starr

We now know more than we ever wanted to about the
president's private life. Here's what the public should know
about the prosecutor who may drive him from office.

BY DAVID TALBOT | There is much we now know
about our 42nd president, William Jefferson
Clinton. We know about his sexual proclivities and
fantasies, his taste in women, his favorite erotic
poetry, the size and topography of his reproductive
organ and yes, his instinct to dissemble when his
secret passions are revealed. Some of the endless
stream of fact and rumor about the president's
private life is of public relevance. Most, however, is
not. And, as New York Times columnist Anthony
Lewis observed on Tuesday, the urge to empty this
president's -- or any president's -- inner life of all its
contents is morbid and Orwellian. As Lewis noted,
"Privacy is an essential ingredient of civilized
human existence," a precious ingredient that has
been steadily chipped away in modern American
society.

Now Congress has been presented with an
impeachment report on President Clinton that is
apparently filled with a plethora of details about his
once-private erotic life, and little else. (So much for
the endless Whitewater probe, which started this
entire national ordeal.) On the basis of this
unprecedented inspection of the president's
personal life, federal lawmakers will decide whether
he may remain in office.

Ironically, while we are abundantly informed about
the president's private life, we know very little
about the man who may finally realize his
long-sought goal of undoing the president's election
-- independent counsel Kenneth Starr. His power to
dominate the nation's attention and control its
agenda seems untrammeled. And yet the media --
the voracious eyes and ears of the new era's
Insatiable Curiosity -- shows scant interest in Starr.
Perhaps this is because there is nothing sensational
about the prosecutor's private life. But it is Starr's
public life that should demand our attention. The
front-page news about Starr is not his sexual
fantasies -- we pray these remain forever locked
away within the pious lawman -- but his political
desires and intimacies. It's not his private lusts that
should concern us, but the passionate fixations and
excesses of his investigation.

The only criticism of Starr's performance that the
elite media has been able to muster during the
frenzy of the last several months is that the
independent counsel is not PR-savvy, that he lacks
the conniving political instincts of, say, President
Clinton. (Even in this criticism there is buried the
glow of approbation, a sense that there is something
noble about Starr's naiveté.) And yet nothing could
be further from the truth. Kenneth Starr is a
consummately political being, and has been
throughout his public life. And his goal from the
moment he sought the independent counsel
appointment was to hobble, if not destroy, a duly
elected presidency that gave him and his
conservative allies great offense.

The fact that Starr pursued this political goal during
the first three years of his investigation with the key
assistance of David Hale, a tainted witness who
now stands accused of taking money and legal help
from anti-Clinton activists with ties to Starr himself,
is now the subject of another federal inquiry. But
the media remains stubbornly indifferent to this
startling story. Indeed, the New York Times
appears to have issued Starr blanket immunity for
any and all misdeeds committed in the course of his
investigation. In a bland and unrevealing cover
profile of Starr in Sunday's New York Times
Magazine, staff writer Michael Winerip
matter-of-factly asserted: "In the end Starr's
motives no longer matter ... It no longer matters if
malicious right-wingers consorted with [Starr's]
office to lay a trap for the president ... Through
Starr's doggedness, his relentless effort to amass
every last fact, he has succeeded in making his
investigation about Bill Clinton, not about Ken
Starr." It may no longer matter (if it ever did) to the
country's newspaper of record that a federal
prosecutor with unlimited powers consorted "with
malicious right-wingers" to overturn the results of
the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections. But Salon
takes a different view.

Ever since Clinton's Aug. 17 confession, the media
have been thrashing around the White House like
sharks smelling blood in the water. Now that Starr
has "got" Clinton on Lewinsky, it's become an
article of faith among the opinion elite that the
prosecutor's unlimited probe has been completely
vindicated and that any attempt to impugn him is
folly. The only question allowed for debate in the
national Clinton deathwatch is when the president
will walk the plank. At the risk of putting a damper
on this orgy of prurience and moral pomposity, we
would like to remind the country of two salient
points: First, Starr's endless investigation apparently
found nothing improper about Clinton's role in
Whitewater -- the sole reason a special prosecutor
was appointed in the first place. This is why, after
years of interrogations and hearings, there is
apparently nothing about Whitewater in Starr's
report to Congress. (But don't count on the New
York Times editors' writing a front-page mea culpa
about its irresponsible Whitewater coverage, as the
less magisterial San Jose Mercury did when it
retracted its "Dark Alliance" report on alleged
CIA/contra drug trafficking.) Second, Clinton's
personal misdeeds, while reprehensible, are simply
nowhere near the stature of Richard Nixon's high
crimes or the Reagan administration's efforts to
fund a rogue war. Covering up a sexual affair is not
an offense against the state. As Carl Bernstein
commented recently, Zippergate is no Watergate --
the country will look back on this strange and
feverish episode years from now and shake its head
in wonder at how it convulsed Washington.

As Congress prepares to review Starr's report on
President Clinton, Salon herein presents its own
findings on the independent prosecutor. In
considering Clinton's possible impeachment,
lawmakers and those who elected them must also
examine the motives, tactics and alliances of Starr
himself. For despite Michael Winerip's puzzling
assertion, the investigation that has entangled
Washington throughout the year is very much about
Ken Starr, not just Bill Clinton.

Over the past seven months, Salon has published a
massive amount of information about Starr, his
investigation and the conflicts of interest between
his probe and the Arkansas Project, a secret $2.4
million project to undermine Clinton financed by
Starr's former patron, Richard Mellon Scaife.
Below is a summary of our special reports on Starr,
which are primarily the work of Salon's own
dogged investigator, Murray Waas. Other key
reporting for Salon has been provided by our
Washington bureau chief, Jonathan Broder, and
contributors Joe Conason, Gene Lyons and Mollie
Dickenson.

What these carefully documented investigative
stories underline is essentially this: In his zealous
pursuit of the president, Kenneth Starr defiled "the
temple of justice," to use his own righteous
rhetoric. Lacking a fundamental sense of fairness
and judicial proportion, Starr sought first to build
his Whitewater real estate case against Clinton using
irredeemably corrupt testimony, and then, when
this failed, he latched onto Paula Jones' ill-fated
civil suit, and then when that failed, he wired Linda
Tripp and finally snared Clinton on adultery -- a
crime that if aggressively pursued in Washington
would depopulate our capital as thoroughly as the
Khmer Rouge emptied Phnom Penh.

Below is a fact sheet of what every American
citizen should know about Kenneth Starr and his
probe.
 
 
 

THE SALON REPORT ON KENNETH STARR | PAGE 1, 2
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1. After successful lobbying by staunch
conservatives such as North Carolina Sen. Lauch
Faircloth, a three-judge panel dominated by
Republicans replaced moderate Whitewater
prosecutor Robert Fiske with Kenneth Starr in
August 1994. Starr, former chief of staff to
Reagan Attorney General William French Smith
and a member of an ambitious circle of activist
conservative attorneys, accepted the job despite
the fact that he had opposed the independent
counsel law when he was a Reagan official and
helped prepare a brief arguing it was
unconstitutional, vesting too much power in one
unaccountable person.

2. At the time of his appointment as Whitewater
independent counsel, Starr, a $1 million-a-year
Washington attorney with the high-powered firm
of Kirkland & Ellis, was advising the Paula Jones
camp on her sexual harassment suit against Clinton
and offered to write a friend-of-the-court brief on
her behalf. He was also representing the tobacco
industry, an ardent foe of the Clinton
administration. Later, Iran-contra prosecutor
Lawrence Walsh would comment that, considering
Starr's conflicts of interest, he should have felt
obligated to turn down the job of investigating
Clinton.

3. Starr proceeded to build his Whitewater case
against Clinton largely around the testimony of
confessed felon David Hale, a corrupt municipal
judge and businessman who claimed then-Gov.
Clinton had pressured him into making an illegal
$300,000 loan to Jim and Susan McDougal,
Clinton's partners in the failed Whitewater real
estate deal. Starr's Whitewater investigators
unearthed a formidable amount of evidence casting
doubt on Hale's testimony against Clinton,
including the fact that Hale had falsely invoked
Clinton's name on a separate occasion to win a
$50,000 kickback from an Alabama health
company seeking an Arkansas state contract. But
Starr chose to overlook this inconvenient episode
in Hale's past, as well as the fact that his star
witness had turned his courthouse into a personal
ATM when he served as a municipal judge, taking
kickbacks from a private collection agency he had
installed to gather fines.

4. William Watt, another former municipal judge
implicated in the Whitewater scheme, was used by
Starr to corroborate Hale's testimony during the
trial of the McDougals and Gov. Jim Guy Tucker.
But Watt would later tell Salon that Starr's
investigators ignored exculpatory information he
provided them about Clinton and tried to pressure
him into telling a more incriminating story about
Clinton: "I was told they didn't like the truth the
way that I told it. I had my truth and they had their
truth and I was told that they liked their truth
better." Watt also told Salon that he regarded Hale
as someone who would "lie and manipulate people.
He was a pathological liar."

5. David Hale, while cooperating with Starr as his
chief Whitewater witness from 1994 to 1996,
would sometimes stay rent-free at a fishing resort
in Hot Springs, Ark., owned by anti-Clinton
activist Parker Dozhier, who passed on secret cash
payments to Hale. This charge was made to Salon
by Dozhier's former live-in girlfriend, Caryn
Mann, and her teenage son, both of whom have
repeated their testimony before a federal grand
jury. According to Mann, the money came from
conservative attorney Stephen Boynton and David
Henderson, vice president of the foundation that
owns the conservative American Spectator
magazine. Boynton and Henderson oversaw the
Arkansas Project, an anti-Clinton muckraking
campaign lavishly funded by right-wing billionaire
Richard Mellon Scaife, who funneled his
contributions through the Spectator.

6. "We're convinced that none of our people had
any knowledge of any such [Arkansas Project]
payments [to Hale]," asserted Starr's chief
Arkansas deputy, W. Hickman Ewing Jr. But the
first meeting of the Arkansas Project took place in
the Washington law offices of Theodore Olson, a
friend, political ally and former colleague of
Starr's, whose relationship dated back to their days
as young activist conservatives in the Reagan
Justice Department. Olson and Starr were also
both beneficiaries of Richard Mellon Scaife's
politically inspired generosity. Starr was scheduled
to take a Scaife-funded deanship at Pepperdine
University until controversy about his connections
to Scaife forced him to resign the post. Olson has
served on the board and as the attorney of the
Scaife-funded American Spectator as well as on
the advisory boards of four other right-wing
institutions funded by Scaife. Referring to Olson's
oversight role on the Arkansas Project, one source
told Salon, "Olson is somebody who Scaife would
trust to see that nothing went wrong and that his
money would not be wasted."

Like Starr, Olson worked on the Paula Jones case.
Last year, when Jones challenged Clinton's claim
of immunity from civil suits while in office, Olson,
together with Robert Bork, held a moot court to
prepare Jones' lawyers for their successful
argument before the Supreme Court.

7. Olson -- who, along with his wife, Barbara, is
often called upon by the press to defend their
friend Starr -- also represented David Hale when
he was called to testify before the Senate
Whitewater Committee. Later, Hale lied under
oath about how he came to retain Olson while
testifying at the trial of Tucker and the
McDougals. Two sources told Salon that by lying
Hale was trying to conceal his connection to the
Arkansas Project. It was the project's Stephen
Boynton and David Henderson who put Hale in
touch with Olson. (Olson's Arkansas Project
connection is never mentioned when the New
York Times and other media outlets call on him
for comment about Starr's investigation of the
president.)

8. While Hale was cooperating with Starr's
Whitewater case, the independent counsel
aggressively protected the man he called "a model
witness," despite all evidence that Hale was
anything but. Starr and his deputies tried to stop an
insurance fraud case brought against Hale by
Arkansas state prosecutors, who charged that
Starr's office tried to intimidate them into dropping
the case. The trial, which Starr succeeded in
delaying but not stopping, will now begin in
October. It will certainly cast a further cloud on
Starr's "model witness," for Hale is charged with
bilking poor black clients in rural Arkansas out of
their funeral payments.

9. Some of Starr's deputies were alarmed by the
independent counsel's unquestioning embrace of
Hale. They shook their heads in dismay when
Starr argued in court for a reduced sentence for
"Judge Hale," as he called him, telling the court, "I
have witnessed his contrition. I believe, your
honor, that he is genuinely remorseful of his
criminal past. I have been impressed with his
humble spirit." Taking issue with Starr, one
Whitewater investigator told Salon, "With someone
like Hale, you can never let down your guard. You
should never get to a point where you begin to
trust him."

10. Starr deputy Hickman Ewing met quietly
several times during the course of his Whitewater
investigation with Rex Armistead, a private eye
hired by the Arkansas Project to dig up dirt on
Clinton. Armistead's investigation focused on
allegations that then-Gov. Clinton had protected a
cocaine-smuggling ring operating out of the Mena
airport in rural Arkansas. The drug charges were
examined and rejected by three separate federal
investigations.

One Whitewater investigator expressed concern
about Ewing's meetings with the private eye,
because of the controversial connection between
Starr and Scaife and because not all the meetings
were recorded in official files: "This was either the
worst case of judgment or something worse."

11. At a critical juncture in Paula Jones'
long-running legal battle with the president, the
Arkansas Project's Stephen Boynton, David
Henderson and Parker Dozhier intervened to find
her experienced litigators, just before the statute of
limitations on her lawsuit ran out. The suit was
successfully revived -- and it in turn would later
revive Kenneth Starr's flagging pursuit of the
president.

Another connection between the Jones case and
the Arkansas Project surfaced when Salon
reported that William Lehrfeld, a conservative
attorney who has worked for Scaife and who
served as legal counsel for the project, contributed
$50,000 to Jones' legal fund from a little-known
foundation he ran.

12. In early 1997, Starr's Whitewater case against
Clinton had reached such a dead end that he made
an effort to flee his job for Malibu's sunny
Pepperdine campus. When his attempted escape
provoked howls from his political and media
supporters, Starr returned grimly to his Whitewater
post. But his fortunes would dramatically reverse
later in the year when the Jones lawsuit was
green-lighted by the Supreme Court -- with help
from Starr's friend Olson -- and Jones' lawyers
subpoenaed Clinton and a then-obscure former
White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.

And so the Clinton/Starr drama came full circle.
By returning to the Paula Jones civil case that he
had counseled before his appointment as
Whitewater prosecutor, Kenneth Starr was finally
able to get his man. Like Roger Chillingworth, the
vengeful moralist who relentlessly pursued the
adulterous Hester Prynne and her lover, the Rev.
Arthur Dimmesdale, in Nathaniel Hawthorne's
"The Scarlet Letter," Starr branded Clinton with
the scarlet "I" -- for impeachment.

Most Americans, even longtime supporters of
Clinton, are feeling estranged from the president
these days because of his reckless Oval Office
antics and his seven months of legalistic
stonewalling. The national media -- from the
foaming Christopher Matthews to the
Monica-fixated Maureen Dowd -- are reinforcing
this estrangement with a 24-7 barrage of
anti-Clinton commentary. This blaring uniformity
of opinion (the American media in the '90s is less
politically diverse than China's) might well further
erode Clinton's support, as Wall Street Journal
apparatchik John Fund eagerly predicted this
week.

But there is still a strong bedrock of American
common sense that resists all the hysterical
sermonizing, that understands that Starr's
enterprise was a political inquisition from its very
birth, and that his marriage of limitless
prosecutorial force and political vengeance is a
much more dangerous specter than President
Clinton's libido. It's this sense of decency and
balance that will, we hope, save the country from
being torn apart over a matter that should never
have been dragged into the public arena.
SALON | Sept. 10, 1998
 

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